What Are YOU Waiting For?

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” . . . What then? Shall we sit idly down and say,

The night has come; it is no longer day??

The night hath not yet come; we are not quite

cut off from labor by the failing light.

Something remains for us to do or dare

(Even the oldest tree some fruit may bear) –

Not Oedipus Coloneus, or Greek Ode,

or tales of pilgrims that one morning rode 

out of the gateway of the Tabard Inn –

But other something, would we but begin.

For age is opportunity, no less

than youth itself, though in another dress,

And as the evening twilight fades away

the sky is filled with stars,

invisible by day.”

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Morituri Salutamos”,  1874

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This Time Last Year

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My DH and I were a few months away from celebrating 38 wonderful years of marriage. The children were grown and our lives had taken us to many places around the world, places I had never dreamed I would see, much less live in. We had recently moved to another country and were enjoying the adventure of getting settled. We were working on where to store Christmas items in our new apartment.

But I had other plans also and I knew they wouldn’t include him. I was going to walk the Camino Frances soon.

I didn’t know exactly when or how. I didn’t know exactly where. I especially didn’t know why.

I hadn’t made any transportation arrangements because I had no clue how to get from where I was to where I thought I might need to be. I didn’t believe in hiking poles – too dorky. I was a good (what’s good about it?) twenty pounds overweight and I’m being kind. I didn’t have hiking boots.

The only thing I had going for me was that I liked walking although I sometimes found it boring.

I had decided to walk the Camino Frances and I had broken the news to my DH just after Thanksgiving. Would he be OK with it? It would cost us money and time. Lots of time but I had no clue  how much.

Not even my children really knew what I was up to.

“Mom’s thinking about going for a long walk.” What did that mean???

You don’t choose the Camino. It chooses you. And I had been chosen. But try to explain that to people who want to know why you want to walk across the top of Spain.

The ancestry of the Camino Frances sits squarely on a pilgrimage. But I’d never been religious enough to feel drawn to religious sites. I’d never felt compelled to visit places noted for miracles. And my life was relatively happy – no need to do penance or suffer to set things straight.

I was an older woman, inactive for many, many years, suddenly possessed by an idea that no one I knew had ever done before or even heard of.

It was time to give this some serious thought.

I Don’t Have Paper But I Do Have Plastic! – Day 36 – Fonfria to San Mahmed

IMGP4313The morning is beautiful and we are rested. The albergue has been comfortable and I have been surrounded by friends.

Nevertheless, the journey is not over. I have miles and miles to go. So the four of us – myself, Christine, Juan Carlos and Andres – rise, have breakfast, and hit the road.

I feed off my companions’ energy and motivation. Dare I admit that I am . . . tired? You’d think that after walking 400 miles, that would be an obvious statement of fact. But I haven’t felt tired before. I am today simply tired of walking.

I don’t want to see any more old churches or old Roman roads. I’m tired of walking through abandoned villages. I’m tired of the endless green paths through the fields which were lovely at first, and now seem beautiful yet redundant.

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As it gets closer to summer, it gets hotter and hotter. Although we are in the wet part of Spain, we will see no more rain, just sunshine and more sunshine. I’m not complaining about the sun, Heaven knows, after all the mud weeks ago, but I am tired of the hot.

I’m still carrying my fleece and my long underwear pajama bottoms. I’m too close to the end to send them ahead and the weight gain wouldn’t be much.

The four of us continue for about eight kilometers. Then, when we hit Triacastela, we split up.

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For me, this is sad. We are very close to the end now, less than a week to Santiago, I expect. The route the boys and Christina will take has great views. That means it goes up to the ridge line. I don’t want to climb any more.

I will walk towards Samos, the town with the famous monastery. I might even  spend the night there.  It is a slightly longer route but stays flatter.

So it is time for a final good-bye to my friends – my Camino family.

We exchange cell phone numbers and promise to keep in touch. We will look for each other in Santiago and celebrate our arrivals, if we meet. We bid each other a “Buen Camino.” I am choked up as I watch them follow the path into the mountains. I doubt I’ll see them again.

Have I made a bad choice?

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I continue onto Samos and the town is just hitting siesta when I arrive so everything is closed. It is hot and blazingly sunny. I have run out of money, again. I check my meager finances and look for an ATM machine. When I find one, no surprise, it doesn’t have any cash. Once again, I’m stuck without euros.

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I go to a bar and the women welcome me as I get the only things I can afford for lunch, a cold beer and some toast. I decide that I shall take a siesta here. I can’t stay at the monastery now because I don’t have any money. I must continue on and hope I can find a place with a cash machine. One with cash.

I am at the bar for about an hour and not a car goes by. Some pilgrim on bicycles come through the town but, not finding anything open, they continue on their way. I decide to do something I’ve seen others do but I haven’t done myself – I call ahead and make a reservation at an albergue.

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I arrive at that albergue late. The albergue is well run by the family and they clearly take pride in their facility and their service. I try to explain that I have run out of euros, that the cash machine was empty, that I don’t have any money for the bed, etc, etc.

No problem, they say.  They take credit cards! So. for the first time on my journey, I pull out plastic and use it. Thank you , St. Julian, the card goes through.

I lay out my sleeping bag on a top bunk. I’m in the shower when the communal meal begins. I’m sorry to miss this multi-course meal since it was the reason I wanted to stay at this albergue. I don’t have any food on me and there’s no pilgrim kitchen. I hand wash my things, knowing that it is so late in the day that my clothes will not be dry in the morning.

Clean, with routine necessities taken care of, I wander and enjoy the sounds of pilgrims who have shared conversation over the communal dinner. I don’t know any of these people, however, and I haven’t eaten. I feel out of place and lonely. The family graciously asks if I’d like a bowl of soup which I gladly accept. For drink, I only need water and I get a pitcher-full.

That night, I climb onto the top bunk. I can hardly wait until the pitcher of water I had with dinner kicks in and I have to climb down in the middle of the night. The sun is going down outside but this is the new normal time to get to sleep. The room I’m in is surprisingly cramped. The family could get rid of one bunk bed and make the room comfortable. But I’m sure it’s a money thing – I can’t begin to imagine their business model.

As I sit up top in my bed, writing in my journal, I see it all. Old men parading around shirtless. People picking at their feet. Guys slapping lotion on their inner thighs. This will be one of the few nights I have trouble falling asleep because of people snoring.

And I still don’t have any money.

Camino minus 19 – Follow the Money and Be the Change

Tomorrow DH and I are giving a dinner party for a friend who is PCS-ing (military moving) back to the States. We decided this person deserved a real dinner, not just the chips and dips normally done for people who are leaving. But it means that most of today was spent shopping and getting ready for tomorrow (tomorrow’s blog should be REALLY short).

But the Camino is never far from my mind.

I had lunch in a little place on base. No one else was there and I was looking over my Camino guidebooks. Someone walked in, someone I knew, and we got to talking about . . . you know what. By the end of lunch, she decided to take her daughter with her on the Camino  next year!

Probably won’t happen.

As part of my errands while party shopping, I took care of one of my biggest concerns for my trip (now that my new passport has arrived).

I finally closed one of my bank accounts and moved all the money into a new credit union account.  I plan to use the ATM card attached to this new account to get cash while in Spain.

Most of the villages along the way, and all the albergues where you spend the night, deal only in cash. That is, of course, euros. Any money I have in dollars has to be changed to euros before it can do me any good. I better be pulling euros out of my security pouch if I want to buy a cafe con leche, because dollars just won’t do.

American credit cards generally do not work in European ATM machines. American credit cards have raised numbers on them and European do not. American cards have a  magnetic strip. European have a microchip.  If I was crazy enough to want to use a credit card to get money from an ATM, the card would probably just get swallowed.

This has happened more than once to unfortunate pilgrims along the Camino.

But why would I even want to use my credit card to get cash from an ATM? That would be a cash advance and, if you don’t know what that means, check your latest credit card statement. Somewhere on there you will find the interest rates for purchases and for cash advances. For example, one card may have an interest rate is 9% on purchases, 20.24% on cash advances. Another, 4.9% on purchases, a walloping 24.99% on cash advances!

My friends, no one uses credit cards to get money on the Camino.

So, then, how DO people get money?

Well, most of the people who walk the Camino are from Spain (no surprise there) so they have local banks. It simply isn’t a problem. The next highest number are from Europe. Most European Union countries share enough of a banking system that there is not much stress in moving money. Europeans have the right ATM cards in their pockets.

For me, getting my money has taken lots of research.

I have my fingers crossed that my new card will work painlessly and inexpensively outside the country. I will pay ATM fees because I will be using ATMs from banks that are not my “home” bank. I will pay foreign transaction fees as my dollars get changed into euros. Finally, I will deal with the ever-changing exchange rate, which conspires to make my dollars worth less and everything in Europe cost more.

So, I closed an account that I had opened in better times to help pay for school expenses for #1 son. It has been sitting there, gathering no interest (thank you, economy) for years and years. You know the calendar you get with the pack of checks? The calendar with this pack was from 2007. May 3 was a Thursday.

And I expect all that money will be gone by the end of next month.

What will I have to show for it?

I hope to be generous with it. I hope to remember that the only value of money is in what you get in return for it. Sometimes, that will be a soft pillow. Sometimes it will be a cold beer. Sometimes it will be a grateful smile.

And I’m a sucker for a talented busker playing an instrument on the sidewalk, be it violin, accordion, guitar, or  clarinet. I always drop some change.

I hope I find some good music along the way.

If not, I’ll just sing. Then I can  keep the change.

Camino minus 23 – Too Late

This is going to be quick. Several things have happened today and it’s just been busy.

1. Went to the doctor to get blood work and x-rays – no problems, just want to make sure everything is in good shape for the trip.

2. The shoes I wrote about a few posts ago came in. I barely had time to open the box, much less try them on. Tomorrow. I promise.

3. Found a new place to get really fine coffee. And I needed some this morning because I had to do the starvation thing before I got that blood work drawn (don’t eat for 12 hours, etc.), which I didn’t get done until about 1 p.m. No coffee until after lunch? Grrrrr. Found out too late that black coffee would have been fine.

4. IKEA didn’t have the stuff I was looking for.  BLAH   😛    (Are people still allowed to use manual emoticons?)

5. I learned that the library cannot keep track of the books I borrow (I knew that, of course; I was around for Bush II when librarians took the lead in standing up for privacy) but I can!!  Good news because I always borrow about 2,000 pages worth of books from the library each week, knowing that I can realistically read maybe 20 pages in that time. But I’m addicted to the “new non-fiction” book shelf at the library. Now I can keep track of the books I don’t get to finish.

6. I had the most delicious pasta shells caprese at a snack bar on base. A new addiction.

7. Writing is more fun sometimes than watching Star Trek re-runs.

Sorry. I had hoped to make this a tidy list of ten but I can only come up with seven. This may be God’s way of telling me to call it a night.

8. Discovered that emoticons are a fun way to drive your spell check crazy.And that spell check cannot handle an emoticon with a tongue sticking out.

Camino minus 24 – a Heavy Religious Dilemma

A recent, non-scientific  survey found that the majority of  people who walk the Camino Frances believe they and their fellow pilgrims are walking for religious reasons. However, it also found that the overwhelming majority do not attend religious services on a regular basis.

Curious.

I finally got to the local English language Church, which I had been told about a while ago yet never made it to because, well, who knows why.

When DH and I go to Mass, it is on base, a hefty distance for busy people like us to travel (too busy for God??!!)  Since most of the people who attend Mass on base seem to live on base, I feel disconnected with the parishioners. Since I don’t work on base and do not have children who go to school on base, I have little in common with them. I don’t run into them during the week, I don’t go to the same places they go, I don’t shop at the same stores.

Of course, Mass is about you and God, not you and the people around you, but it’s also a community effort. And, after a year, I feel like an outsider.

So, I was looking forward to this local Church. I was a bit taken back, however, to discover that this Church is –  dare I say it – Anglican!! Heavens! Heathens!!

Nevertheless, since I had raced out of the house to get there on time, I went in. It was a lovely, warm, friendly service, about 40 people of all ages and, different from my parish back in Virginia, lots of young adults, not so many wrinkled faces (not that there’s anything wrong with wrinkled faces, mind you, being a proud owner of one myself).

I had been to the local Roman Catholic Cathedral, right downtown, and asked about English language services in the area and hadn’t gotten an answer I could understand. This nearby Church was my last great hope.

The Anglican service is very similar to the Roman Catholic service – same structure, same prayers, same sacrament, same scripture readings.

But, Catholics are not allowed to partake of sacraments in Anglican services.

Darn you, Henry VIII!!!

The survey I mentioned earlier said that many of the pilgrims on the Camino felt left out of many of the pilgrim Masses they had been able to attend – they didn’t understand what was being said, and/or they couldn’t participate. That sense of loss and longing is one the Church struggles to address and correct. After all, the purpose of the Camino to Santiago de Campostella is to arrive at the Cathedral in Santiago de Campostella, the final resting place of St. James, a pretty holy, Catholic,  place.

Yes, I know about the ongoing questions of “who is REALLY buried there, how can it REALLY be St. James,” etc. However, belief  and faith are what it’s all about, right?)

Maybe my pilgrimage will find a local parish in Germany for me to attend?

It’s a strange day for me to be pondering these questions. Today is my Dad’s birthday, who passed away two years ago.  He was not a religious man, but his mother, my Grandmother, certainly was. Her Catholicism was strong but not overpowering to me, as a child. It was a source of mystery and strength, just the things an immigrant family needed in a new culture. You could always depend on it being there for you. Why Dad didn’t pick up on it is a mystery to me!

And I love being Roman Catholic. I love the rituals and the ability to question. I love the legacy of learning and the charity. In Venice a few months ago, I loved going to daily Mass at the  Church around the corner ( you know it was Catholic) and participating, even though I couldn’t speak a word of Italian. It was a beautiful place and a beautiful feeling. They had an English service every Sunday, and DH participated as one of the lectors.

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Here, locally, something is missing for me.

Camino minus 26 – Now, with Pictures!

It’s promising to rain here so I have a “forced” non-walking day. Since today is the day I usually do all the laundry, it’s just as well, although the weather may impact on drying the clothes outside. Whatever. My DN uses her Friday to do all the household chores. I’m not as motivated as she is, unfortunately. I’m happy to just get laundry done.

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Hiking socks, quilting materials, drying outside, waiting for rain.

The final reservation to be made in advance was made today. DH and I already had our train tickets to Paris, and his return to Germany, my one-way to Bayonne, France. I also already had my reservation for the first night of my trip in St Jean Pied de Port (SJPdP), on the French side of the Pyrenees in Basque country. Because  I expected that I would not be able to sleep the night before, I had decided a while ago to treat myself at a well-recommended albergue for that first night.

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This is L’Espirit du Chemin in SJPdP, which will be my first stop and provide the first stamp for my credencial.

But it wasn’t until recently that I decided that I should make a reservation for the second night, also.

The entire route of the Camino Frances can be broken into “stages,” a very general break down of a day’s worth of walking. Using this measure, the 800 km  Camino Frances takes about 33 days (I’m giving myself 5 weeks).

The first stage is reputed to be the most challenging. It’s the beginning/end for pilgrim routes all over Europe and pilgrims converge, fresh off the trains, taxis, buses, airplanes, and by foot, at SJPdP. No matter what shape you’re in, no matter how tired or hungry you may be, no matter how prepared or unprepared you are, if this is where you begin, there’s nowhere to go but up and over the Pyrenees.

The nearest town is on the other side of the Pyrenees Mountains. And, although these aren’t the highest peaks of the Pyrenees – those  are to the east – the climb is formidable. The altitude goes from 200 meters above sea level to 1400m in about 20 km straight up. From that high point in the mountains, there is a steep descent of about 500 m in 5 km to the town at the end of stage one, Roncevalles, in Spain. This climb is done, of course, with a full backpack in unfamiliar territory and in unpredictable weather.

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About a month ago, a pilgrim was tragically killed while making the hike on this first day over the mountain. Apparently, he simply took a wrong turn and walked off a cliff (in serious snow conditions, which I don’t expect to meet in May, so don’t worry). If you see the movie, “The Way,” you’ll know that this was the opening scenario which propels the entire story. When I saw the movie, I thought the pilgrim dying on the first day was a little over-dramatic. Now I know it was not.

There are no places to find food, shelter, or warmth in the mountains. There are only two places along the way for the weary to find a bed and a meal during that first stage and they are both closer to the starting point than to the mountain. I’ve decided I would stop  at the one about 7 km from SJPdP at the end of that first day’s walk, making it very short but a final place to prepare for the next 750 km.

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This photo of the Refuge Orisson, where I plan to spend the second night, is for the benefit of my friends living in the South Pacific. That white stuff is not cotton but a cold, icy thing called snow.

My goal is not to get to Santiago de Campostella first, or fastest, but to get to Santiago de Campostella. Providing a bed, dinner and breakfast may well be a welcome relief and, if not, well, it will be a pleasant final kick-off point for me.  My poor, old bones will probably enjoy the day off to re-evaluate my packing and walking strategies, re-adjust socks and boots, do everything except re-consider walking in the first place. .

Of course, there’s always the possibility that my staying an extra day on the French side of the Pyrenees will mean I miss a beautiful hiking day and end up having to make the trek in wet, windy, miserable weather the following day. Ah, well, I’ve never had any luck trying to second guess God’s plans for me.

It still hasn’t rained.